Right of free speech does not include violence

We’ve seen a number of unprecedented things over the past year — first and foremost being the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused, and continues to wreak havoc around the globe. But what we witnessed Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. has the potential for an even greater impact on our nation than the pandemic.

With a country nearly split down the middle over which candidate they supported during this last presidential election, it’s understandable that a huge number of U.S. citizens are unhappy with the results — that would have been true regardless of who won. But the election is over, and it’s time to move on. It’s time for this country to figure out how to come to terms with each others’ beliefs and philosophies and to work together for the good of everyone.

We couldn’t believe the violence that erupted as lawmakers were in the process of certifying the Electoral College votes won by President-elect Joe Biden. The U.S. Capitol was stormed by pro-Trump protesters. Glass doors were smashed, and authorities drew their weapons to protect the building. The certification was stopped after Congress recessed as the chaos escalated outside and inside the building. Washington, D.C. police said Thursday that the security breach at the U.S. Capitol resulted in four deaths — including a woman who had been shot — and at least 70 arrests.

Images of Wednesday’s violence circulated around the globe, and world leaders quickly condemned the actions of the protesters, urging respect for America’s democratic processes and a peaceful transfer of power.

We have witnessed these types of violent protests in other countries, but it’s almost unimaginable that it would reach this level here in the United States. As the most powerful nation in the world, what kind of example does this set for others? Is this the image we want to project of what democracy looks like?

Mike Blinder, publisher of E&P, in a recent editorial titled “Enough is Enough,” wrote the following: “Democracy is hard. It not only requires a citizen to allow a fellow citizen the right to have an opinion or belief that is 100 percent opposed to your own, but you also have to respect their right to voice it.” This is most certainly true, but at the same time, the right of free speech does not give one permission to engage in criminal acts like those we witnessed this week, and like what we have seen at other protests-turned-riots around this country.

Nationally, political leaders from both parties have been quick to condemn this latest violence. Here in Oregon, the following statement was issued by House Republican Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby): “I am heartbroken at today’s events in our nation’s capital. It is a sad day for our country and federal government. We are a country of laws, and they must be upheld. The Constitution protects peaceful protests, not the chaos we are witnessing at the Capitol building. I condemn the violence against law enforcement, destruction of public property and those who incite it regardless of political affiliation.”

We, as a country, are better than this. While we must always protect our rights of free speech and peaceful assembly, that should never include violence. If this type of thing continues, it will have serious consequences for the future of our country.


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